In a possible violation of state ethics law, officials at Everett City Hall have denied a state representative candidate a chance to have a booth at the city’s Independence Day celebration while securing one for the incumbent state rep.
State Rep. Joe McGonagle was declared a participant in the event from the very day the celebration was announced. McGonagle is seeking reelection to the state house. He faces two Democratic challengers in the September primary, Gerly Adrien and Stephen “Stat” Smith.
Adrien has been trying to register as a booth sponsor for quite some time now. Last week, she was told the person handling the event was Robert Barrett, special events producer in the city’s communications department. In a conversation with city communications director Tom Philbin last week, The Everett Stimulus was also told Barrett was handling that work and that he would return to work Monday and available to talk to Adrien. Adrien went to city hall Monday but was told Barrett wasn’t in.
In yet another attempt to get a fair shake, Adrien returned to city hall to see Barrett Tuesday. Instead, communications assistant Andrew Napolitano stepped in and curtly told Adrien that she would not be allowed a booth and that the city solicitor was in possession of an opinion from the state that allowed the city to deny her.
Section 23(b)(2) of state ethics law “prohibits a public employee from using or attempting to use his or her official position to secure for himself or others unwarranted privileges or exemptions which are of substantial value and which are not properly available to similarly situated individuals.” McGonagle is using his official position to obtain a privilege (a booth at the celebration) of substantial value (towards his reelection). The city, in denying Adrien a chance to have a booth, is ensuring such privilege is not available to her. As a ballot-qualified candidate, she is a similarly situated individual.
Beyond the possible violation of election law in this case is the treatment Adrien received at city hall:
1. Why was she told all this time that Barrett was the person handling the Independence Day celebration, only to be confronted by Napolitano (whose chief function seems to be as the mayor’s photographer) Tuesday?
2. Is it proper for a communications assistant to be telling a ballot-qualified candidate what can and will happen at a community event?
3. Why was Adrien strung along all this time?
4. Why did it take this long to tell Adrien she would not be provided the same opportunity as another candidate on the ballot?
5. Is city hall interested in basic fairness?
6. Is city hall ready to risk an ethics complaint that could reach far beyond this one incident?
The Everett Stimulus contacted the city solicitor’s office and spoke to Assistant City Solicitor Keith Slattery. Slattery said “the city decided” that there would be no political activity allowed at the Independence Day event. He dismissed an argument that McGonagle having a booth is inherently political because he is running for reelection.
Slattery cited an opinion from the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) as the authority for the state to allow McGonagle in and keep Adrien out. That seems a curious place to seek an opinion as opposed to the attorney general’s office or even the ethics commission.
Slattery went on to say “we may permit it [political activity] at other events.” In other words, the decision to exclude Adrien is completely arbitrary. The city is not required to keep her out, they are choosing to.
Everett city hall and other political institutions in the city are often seen as insular, inaccessible and a sort of a let’s-take-care-of-our-buddies club that is unwelcoming at best and ethically challenged at worst. It’s common knowledge that most elected officials and their minions support McGonagle. Denying Adrien a booth at the event—whether legal or not—sends the wrong message to residents of the city.
One would think the city would go out of its way to be fair in an election year. But no. It’s the same old, same old.